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WHY GOD DOES NOT EXIST: SUFFERING?
Victor M. Eskew
For some reason, individuals do not want to believe God exists. They ignore all of the evidence. Our world manifests design in so many places. Design demands a designer. The writer of Hebrews was right when he said: “Every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God” (Heb. 3:4). Our physical bodies are another proof that God exists. We are composed of several systems and hundreds of parts that work in harmony one with another. Even before the day of sophisticated medicine, the psalmist understood that his body was a work of God. When he considered how wonderfully made he was, he praised God. In Psalm 139:14, he penned these beautiful words: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are they works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” The psalmist also knew that the heavenly hosts prove the existence of a powerful God. He opens the nineteenth psalm with these words: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world…” (Ps. 19:1-4a). The psalmist was so convinced of the existence of God that he referred to those who denied His existence as fools. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God…” (Ps. 14:1; 53:1).
Instead of looking honestly at the abundance of evidence that proves the existence of God, unbelievers seek any and every argument possible to question the existence of God. One of the most powerful they have found involves suffering. They ask: “If God exists, why is suffering in the world?” Here is how they reason. If God exists, and He is all powerful, then He could rid the world of suffering. Or, if God exists, and is all-powerful, then He must not be all-loving. If He truly loved humanity, He would rid the world of suffering. Their conclusions are three-fold: 1) God does not exist, period. 2) God exists, but is not omnipotent. If He is not omnipotent, then He cannot be God. And, 3) God exists, but He is not all-loving. If He is not all-loving, then He cannot be God. For some, this argument is very powerful. One of the reasons is because they approach suffering through human understanding. They see all suffering as bad. They assume an all-powerful, all-loving God would never permit suffering. Assumptions are just that, assumptions.
In the remainder of this article, let’s consider three things about suffering. First, suffering is part of man’s punishment. When God originally created man, He put him in a pristine garden called Eden. Man was innocent. There was no sin on the earth. Man, however, changed all of that. Man violated God’ law (Gen. 2:16-17) and partook of the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:6). Part of man’s punishment involved suffering. “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children…cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:16-19). If anyone is responsible for sin, it is man. He was given a choice. He could sin. He could refrain from sin. He knew that death was the consequence of his actions. He choose death and all that comes with it. Some say that the punishment is too severe. How can we make such a determination? Are we God? Do we understand the seriousness of sin? Do we realized how much sin truly opposes the holiness of God? God is a just God. The punishment He meted out for sin was just and fair, even if humans think differently.
Second, suffering is a wonderful university of learning and growth. We understand this in some areas of life. To become a star athlete, there is discipline and suffering through which one must pass. Olympic champions can testify to the suffering they endured in order to stand on the platform to receive a gold medal. They will never say they enjoyed the suffering, but they will admit that it was good for them. They gained wisdom and strength and victory because of the struggles through which they passed. The same is true of all humans. Our afflictions make us who we are. It is not the blessings and comforts of life that develop us. It is the University of Hard Knocks. The Bible speaks about this in several places. In Romans 5:3-5, Paul writes: “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed…” James echoes Paul’s sentiments when writing about the diversity of temptations that all of us experience. “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patient. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 2:3-4). James was so convinced about the positives of suffering that he told his readers to rejoice in their afflictions. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2).
Third, suffering points man to things which are eternal. If earth were exactly like heaven, we would not long for heaven. If our bodies never experienced suffering, we would not long for our spiritual body. Paul understood this and wrote to the Corinthian church about it. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that, if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not make with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life” (II Cor. 4:17-5:4). Notice some of the things Paul says: “our light affliction…worketh for us,” “while we look…at the thing which are not seen,” and “for in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.” Yes, we are afflicted. Yes, we groan. Yes, we are burdened. All of this, however, causes us to earnestly desire something better, “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
Suffering is a unique subject. We associate pain, sorrow, loss, and death with it. For some reason, we forget that joy, growth, experience, and hope are also attached to trials and tribulations. If God never allowed man to suffer, He would not be just. Too, He would not be a good teacher. And, He would keep His people from longing to be with Him when this life is over. We never wish suffering upon ourselves or anyone. But, when we suffer, it is not because God does not exist. It is not because God is not all-powerful or all-loving. As we have seen, there is much more to suffering than the simple assumptions of man.